Fry's Spring Service Station to get tasty tune-up
After a 70-year run servicing cars, the historic Fry’s Spring Service Station is gearing up to begin a new era servicing area foodies. Instead of lube jobs, tire rotations, and tune-ups, the new service menu will include gourmet pizzas, Panini, Italian wines, and al fresco dining on the corner of Jefferson Park and Maury Avenues.
Last April, investors Terry Hinderman and PK Kamath bought the old station from the Houchens family, who ran the place for more that 40 years, for $800,000. They had plans to restore the circa-1931 building and develop the property, which involved getting design plans approved for one of the city’s most historic properties. In 2008, the Fry’s Spring Service Station was one of only eight Charlottesville buildings added to the Individually Protected Properties list, and its Jeffersonesque Spanish/colonial exterior and Art Deco bathrooms had already landed it on the state and national historic registers.
"We’ve spent two years navigating through the City historic review board, rezoning, and City site plan approval sign off,” says Hinderman. "No easy task."
And that doesn’t include the actual work itself.
"It’s had one owner since the 1930’s, so not a lot has been done to the building," says Hinderman.
So far, the roof has been restored, the exterior painted, the bricks re-pointed, and the site will soon have new sidewalks and an outdoor brick patio. Hinderman also says the original outdoor lighting will be brought back. Inside, a new heating and cooling system is being installed, and outside new sewer and water pipes are being brought into the building. Upon its closure last February, the old building was the subject of a Hook slideshow.
"We’re also working with the new tenant to create a truly unique atmosphere which incorporates elements of the old station," says Hinderman. For instance, the two service bay doors of the old station have been replaced with tall glass doors that retract and look like service bay doors.
The new tenants, Downtown Grille owner Robert Sawrey and his restaurant group partner Steve Parry, plan to operate under the name Fry’s Spring Station. They considered several others names, says Sawrey, but finally realized that none could compete with the original.
Earlier last year, Sawrey says they had no plans to open another restaurant, but says they were slowly drawn to the project by the commitment Hinderman and Kamath showed toward restoration and to the business potential of a restaurant in that part of town. Ironically, after being a destination for cars for so many years, Sawrey hopes the new restaurant will become a destination for the growing number of neighborhood pedestrians. Likewise, Hinderman says they were impressed with Sawrey and Parry’s commitment, mentioning that the duo have made a “significant investment” in the interior design.
They settled on the pizza restaurant concept, Sawrey mentions, based on the success of Waterstone in Lynchburg and Sette in Richmond, two gourmet pizza restaurants his restaurant group owns (they also own Shoemakers American Grill in Lynchburg), which he says are always busy. Sawrey hopes to bring that same kind of atmosphere to the neighborhood.
As Sawrey explains, the restaurant will feature an open kitchen with a brick oven big enough to cook 22 pizzas at a time, plus a small bar area (they don’t want it to become a late-night scene) and seating for 100. Outside, there will be another 45 seats both under the elaborate porte-cochšre in front and along Maury, which will feature heat lamps for year-round outdoor dining. Of course, the Art Deco bathroom will be restored, and Sawrey says the floor is going to be laid with reclaimed heartwood pine from Mountain Lumber.
In addition to pizzas and paninis, there will be soups, salads, various specials, brew pub beer, and a selection of Italian wines. Heading up the effort will be Sawrey’s Downtown Grille sous chef Barry Binney and his Brazilian-born assistant Caroline Oliveira.
“I just want it to be a great place to hang out,” says Oliveira. “I’m very excited about the challenge.”
If all goes according to plan, Sawrey says Fry’s Spring Station should be open in March.